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Anteater Gives Birth Without Mating, Zoo Officials Puzzled

May 17, 2013 04:51 PM EDT

A female anteater that gave birth despite the absence of a male partner at a zoo in Connecticut has zoo officials puzzled, offering a bizarre situation where likely explanations to the mystery are in short supply.

Calling it an immaculate conception would not be completely accurate, but it provokes the right idea.

At Greenwich's LEO Zoological Conservation Center, a female giant anteater called Armani gave birth as planned last August. Because male anteaters are known to eat their young, Armani's mate, Alf, was removed from cohabitation for a period of several months. The story gets weird when last month, a zookeeper went into to Armani's holding area one morning and found that she had given birth to another baby.

"The gestation period for anteaters is six months. Armani and Alf had not been back together long enough to do what they needed to do to put the cycle of life into gear a second time," wrote Lisa Chamoff, who broke the story in the Greenwich Times.
So how did it happen?

"It is a bit of a mystery," said Marcella Leone, founder and chief director of the conservation center. But she did suggest a possibility: delayed implantation.

Sloths and armadillos, which belong to the same family as anteaters, have been observed with fertilized eggs remaining dormant in the uterus for some time, so it's possible Armani had the same thing happening.

But not everybody believes Leone's theory.

"When she gives birth, her entire uterus is going to clear out. Anything that's in her uterus, even another undeveloped embryo, would clear out," said Stacey Belhumer, a zookeeper and species survival plan coordinator for the North American population of giant anteaters at Reid Park Zoo in Tuscon, Ariz.

In her interview with Chamoff, Belhumer said that, in her opinion, the most likely scenario was that the two anteaters were able to mate, somehow.

"My guess is they thought they had him separated," Belhumeur said. "We've seen incredible feats of breeding success. We've had animals breed through fences."

Leone said that the separated anteaters did share a fence line, but that she didn't see how mating could have taken place between it.

With nothing but speculation to go on, the mystery will likely never be solved. But at least there is one more anteater among the ranks at the conservation center.

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